President Obama must really be feeling the heat of high gas prices. He is on the defense.
For the past three years, America's oil industry has endured public denigration, access denials, and permitting delays—all while the President touts the virtues of energy sources not equipped to power America: wind, solar, and, most recently, algae. As gas prices have been spiking up, President Obama has been speaking out against the evil oil companies and accusing them of obscene profits. Apparently, Americans haven't been buying into the rhetoric. Polls show increasing numbers of people believe the President's policies have contributed to the high prices.
Late last week, the American public was offered more evidence that President Obama's energy policy is really more electoral posturing. Friday afternoon, March 16, an energy tour was announced that would "highlight his Administration's all of the above energy strategy, including his focus on continuing to expand responsible oil and gas development…" Visiting only swing states, his fossil fuel infatuation tour included a trip to the oil fields of Southeastern New Mexico—where the pending decision regarding listing the sand dune lizard as an endangered species could kill the entire economy in that corner of the state.
With little notice, locals scrambled to put together a rally to greet the President when he touched down. Oil companies, ranchers, local businesses, and politicians sent out alerts—plans were underway. The original press release said: "The President will then travel to oil and gas production fields located on federal lands outside of Carlsbad, New Mexico, an area home to more than seventy active drilling rigs. While in Carlsbad, ..."
Something didn't sound right. The Carlsbad, NM airport cannot accommodate Air Force One. Assumptions were made. He must be flying into Roswell and then being helicoptered to Carlsbad, and driven to a well site. "We'll have folks line the streets along the exit of the Carlsbad airport with signs…"
On Tuesday, a new press release came out. Nix Carlsbad. The President is landing in Roswell and then "will travel to oil and gas production fields located on federal lands outside of Maljamar, New Mexico." Maljamar (population 38) is a wide sport in the road surrounded by tumbleweeds and pump jacks. Regroup.
An email alert offered "an important update on the President's visit on Wednesday. The Secret Service requested that there be NO RALLY at the airport on Wednesday. They were promptly told that this was going to happen whether they wanted us there or not. The Secret Service is CLOSING Earl Cummings Parkway during his visit."
The update continued, "We will most probably not see the President and our goal is to have enough people show up to draw media attention to what our President is doing to our home area, Lizard, Prairie Chicken etc. He is using this visit to show 'support' for our energy industry, while selling our livelihoods down the drain behind our backs. PLEASE MAKE A SIGN TO BRING WITH YOU!!!!!!!!!"
President Obama's total visit time was scheduled to be 2 hours and 15 minutes—with no public interaction. Off in the distance, he might have seen the crowd gathered at the rally—even if only in the news reports.
He was greeted at the Roswell International Air Center by Governor Susana Martinez and Roswell's Mayor Del Jurney. The mayor of nearby Artesia declined to meet the President. Mayor Jurney says that he spoke to the President about the sand dune lizard: "When you have an opportunity to have boots on ground and to meet the people that it affects, I think the decision making process changes a bit and I am hoping that he'll continue to consider the ill effects of things like the sand dune lizard and other EPA issues that harm oil and gas production."
From the Roswell International Air Center, President Obama was flown to Maljamar for a nine-minute speech with a backdrop of pump jacks. The speech contained the usual talk of increased permitting and production. Even in front of the small, select audience, he received only sparse applause. Using his professorial tone, he lectured people who earn their living from oil production on how oil is priced in the global market.
In the last few minutes, President Obama launched into the now-well-known tirade about subsidies to oil and gas companies. I am sure the section made sense to the speech writers in the White House, but Obama clearly faltered while delivering the lines in front of his policy's victims: "The oil companies who are drilling here in New Mexico, and all over the country, are making record profits. … I want American oil companies to do well. I have said, though, it doesn't make sense to be providing a $4 billion subsidy when oil and gas are doing plenty well on their own. Oil companies are making record profits and that's good, but we don't need to subsidize them. $4 billion is a lot of money and we've been subsidizing them for 100 years. So my attitude is let's make sure we use that money in smarter ways to develop a whole range of new energy sources since the oil industry is mature and has already taken off. Instead of investing tax dollars in profitable companies, let's invest in our future. Let's tell Congress to get their act together. Let's allocate these subsidies in a smart kind of way. If we're going to end our dependence on foreign oil and bring gas prices down once and for all, we've got to develop new technologies."
Apparently, he came to my state to scold the successful while promising support for the start-ups.
If President Obama's visit was about more than a photo op, he'd stop and look into the eyes of the men and women of New Mexico's Permian Basin—which accounts for about 20% of the domestic oil production in the contiguous states. He would have seen good, hard-working people. If he took the time, he would have seen fear; fear not just for personal livelihoods, but also for the future of their communities. The people of Southeastern New Mexico are brave, not usually afraid. But they have watched as policy after policy put into place by the Administration directly impacts the economic stability of Southeastern New Mexico.
Greg Nibert, Chaves County Commissioner, District 5, in Roswell, New Mexico said, "I hope the President boards Air Force One committed to putting the citizens of Chaves County ahead of reptiles, birds, and whatever critters they might think of next. I further hope he will focus on policies that will get government out of the way so our farmers, ranchers, oil and gas companies, and local businesses can produce the economic prosperity needed by our community, state, and nation."
Will President Obama return to Washington committed to unwinding the policies he previously promoted? Or, was his stop merely a photo op to create the image that he is a friend of fossil fuels and the American West? Sadly, history tells us his fossil fuel infatuation is fake. The people of New Mexico have been used.
The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc. and the companion educational organization, the Citizens' Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). Together they work to educate the public and influence policy makers regarding energy, its role in freedom, and the American way of life. Combining energy, news, politics, and, the environment through public events, speaking engagements, and media, the organizations' combined efforts serve as America's voice for energy.